Review: Julian Velard Extolls WHAT AM I DOING HERE? at Joe's Pub

By: Oct. 25, 2019

Review: Julian Velard Extolls WHAT AM I DOING HERE? at Joe's Pub

Ah, fame thou glittering bauble. The road to stardom, natch, is often filled with life's unexpected bumps along the way, and for Julian Velard, the prodigious singer-songwriter-comedian, the stumbles to becoming a household name are littered with the swerves in the road the universe seems especially fond of throwing at those kind fools hiking the K2 Summit we call the music business. Now 40, the former Manhattanite (resigned to living in Queens and experiencing the bumps of the baby kind) is here to tell you that he's leaving behind (once and for all) that bruised playground of rock n' roll and heading for the stable pastures of...musical theatre?

A ruse is a ruse is a ruse, and of course, this set up by Velard, whose pointed musicality and hipster perspective ditties have made him something of a staple on NPR and The Howard Stern Show is spinning paradoxical and waxing perverse; WHAT AM I DOING HERE? Velard's latest (and very clever) offering, as premiered Thursday night at Joe's Pub is pure commentary. What does it mean, after all, to be that awful thing that is Generation X facing middle age with all those still desired dreams on your shoulder and realities of life around your neck?

Using the meta device of the 'art-imitating-life in-real-time' story, Velard grabs the framework of WHAT AM I DOING HERE? to anecdotally traverse (mostly through original song) the slippery slope of juggling that territory, complete with a two year old toddler by your side and an artistically soul crushing job as a "karaoke pianist" by night (the show's title is a nod to a lyric in Billy Joel's anthem for drunk business men everywhere, "Piano Man.")

That the evening is 'a workshop inspired by the highly unsuccessful experimental Broadway shows of the 1970s,' is likely a playful nudge at The Public Theatre itself (who was responsible for many of these self important examination pieces with titles like I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road) but the device gives the self deprecating Velard the perfect arena to take on, and ultimately embrace, the absurd experience of being human. Joined by his fellow deadbeat, "Mr. Mom" from the playground, Mark (a 'work in progress' played, in fact by comedy writer, Joe Sciappa) and an opinious omnipresent narrator who takes us through a 'day in the life,' as defined by musical theatre directives, WHAT AM I DOING? is an often hilarious, and thanks to Velard's true blue gifts as a songwriter, musically thrilling take on extolling the 'brutally honest' struggle of never growing up and facing reality.

Velard, with a curly mop and boyish charm that recalls a sort of "Big"-ish era Tom Hanks, musically and vocally brings to mind artists like Elton John, Randy Newman and yes, Billy Joel. With jaunty tunes that are reminiscent (or perhaps pastiche) Velard's greatest gift is as a lyricist and 21st century observationist. His songs, often with titles like " New York (What You Gonna Do with Me?),"`''Pushing a Stroller Around the Grocery Store," '"I Can't Believe You're Pregnant (Again)" and "She Lets Me Be Me" are witty, bittersweet, deeply personal and (yes, that overused superlative) frequently brilliant.

Ever reaching for that evasive truth (trope?) that happiness is wherever you find yourself, and capped by a running gag that his wife has no idea he is airing his irresponsible musical laundry out to dry on the chairs of Joe's Pub, Julian Velard seems to all too shrewdly be aware that the frivolity of musical theatre matches, more often than not, the blow by blow silliness of life. But in the theatre, the mundane can be epic, and even the simplest frustrations of day to day survival, cathartic. And if by the end of WHAT AM I DOING HERE? the central question isn't (or perhaps more rightly can't ever be) answered, it reaveals Julian Velard to be more grown up (and maybe even more accomplished) that he realizes.

And with musical gifts and self realization like that, why give up the Summit? Keep on climbing, Mr. Velard. Keep on climbing.

Julian Velard: WHAT AM I DOING HERE at Joe's Pub, October 24, 2019.

Follow Julian Velard on his website, and @julianvelard